Budget Allocation: How To Spend Your Money To Get Good Sound

Music Warehouse Training Blog

Last week, I had the chance to talk with an experienced AV installer. He had just completed the installation of a new sound system for an auditorium.

Brand, Spanking New Sound System

It was a complete and comprehensive installation. There were 4 three-way front-of-house, flown sub-woofers, in-fill speakers for the front two rows of seats and delayed speakers for the balcony area and under the balcony.

A hefty 5-figure sum had been invested into the installation of the sound system.

We spoke about how he was planning to “pink noise” the room in a couple of weeks, how the system compressors had been set up and how the speakers were configured with the mixer.

The system sounded really good with programme music played over it. However, one thing from my conversation with him stuck with me.

As we were discussing about how the sub-woofers were configured with the mixer, he made the point that the most important factor in any system is… drum roll, please… the sound operator.

The Most Important Part of Delivering Sound

In his opinion, the skill level and experience of the sound operator is the most critical part of delivering good sound to the audience.

A good sound operator can make a system perform acceptably and a good sound system sound great. As my new friend shared with me, it all boils down to the experience and ears of the operator.

This got me thinking.

Many institutions are happy to spend plenty of money procuring and installing the best equipment and gear for their venues. However, how aware are institutions that the most important part of the “signal chain” is the human operator?

Investment In Skills and Experience

There is a story told of a performance where Reggie Wooten, a phenomenal guitar player, was spotted playing a Squier guitar. The Squier line, for those who aren’t familiar, is Fender’s budget, entry-level instruments. Despite using what most musicians would refer to as a “beginner’s instrument”, Reggie made the guitar sing. It was all down to his technique, experience and finesse.

The same principle applies to operating a sound system.

It is a good idea to invest what you can afford into getting a great sound system. However, be sure to invest in the humans operating the sound systems too.

If money spent are an indications of an institution’s priorities, what is the budget allocation between equipment and people? While investments into a sound system will depreciate over time but investments made into equipping sound operators can only appreciate in value. Perhaps this is something to consider for the future.

Why Sound Operators Need to Get Behind the Mic

Talkback mic

Sound operators are often most comfortable behind the mixer. From that vantage point, they can determine the sound comes out over the main front-of-house sound system.

However, if a sound operator was asked to step up and get up behind a mic while on stage, we suspect that many would feel slightly uncomfortable. Yet, there is a very good reason for sound operators to get behind a mic – at least while at the mixer.

Communication is Key

The key to running a sound check and putting together a good mix is communication. Whether in houses of worship or at a live stage performance, having good and mutually respectful two-way communication between the mixing desk and the stage not only helps the sound operator do his or her job better, but makes those on the stage sound better too.

One issue we notice is that those on stage often have their mics set up to communicate with the sound operator with, but the sound operators often don’t have any other way to communicate back to those on stage – except using their natural voice.

Ironically, even though the sound operator or sound crews are the ones setting up microphones and other equipment on stage, they often neglect setting up anything for themselves to communicate with those on stage.

What can happen next is often as comic as it is tragic.

The performers use the mic to talk to the sound operator, the sound operator then has to shout or raise his or her voice back at the performers. In the heat of the moment before the start of an event, this can turn a simple adjustment of the monitors into World War III.

Okay, maybe that last bit was an exaggeration. However, you get our point.

Get Behind The Mic

What’s a better alternative?

The sound operator can simply plug in a mic into the mixer and use it to communicate in a calm manner to the performers that he is supporting on stage.

In fact, there is even a term for such a piece of equipment – a talkback mic.

This can help to save a great deal of misunderstandings and goes towards allowing the sound operator and stage performers to communicate more professionally.

So, after setting up the equipment and microphones on stage, remember to setup an additional mic at the mixing desk and get behind the microphone.

Get more sound management tips at the Digital Mixing Course. Next course starts in October 2018. More info here.

3 Reasons to Invest in Training Your PA Team

Music Warehouse Training - Sound System Training

How many of the people who are responsible for operating your sound or PA system have undergone training?

In most cases, many of those charged with standing behind the PA console in non-professional scenarios such as a church, school or facility would have only received on-the-job training.

This usually involves shadowing a more senior person and learning which buttons to press and which sliders to move about.

However, there is much more to managing a sound system than simply pushing buttons. This also means there is more to be learnt than what can  be covered by on-the-job training.

Here are three reasons why you should invest in training your sound team.

1. Learn what the knobs and buttons really do

The heart of any sound system is the mixer. This can range from a small 6-channel analogue mixer to a large-scale 32-channel digital mixer. However, why do I sometimes need to press the phantom power button (what is phantom power anyway?), what is the HPF button for, and what exactly is there a group button (we only support soloists)?

You can twist and turn each knob and press on and off each button listening out for changes to the sound, and hopefully make a likely guess after a few weeks. Alternatively, attend a sound system training course to find out definitely what each of them do.

2. Know what to listen for

Being conversant at using equipment is only the first step. Knowing what you are trying to achieve with the equipment is the next.

Do you know what you are trying to adjust the microphone to sound like? What type of EQ settings are required to compensate for a very “live” room?

These are things that are best learnt under guidance and a benefit of attending a sound system training course.

3. Gain troubleshooting skills

When something goes wrong, the ability to be able to troubleshoot quickly and accurately is paramount.

Picking up skills to troubleshoot sound or PA issues can be done in two ways. The first is by trial-and-error. This means that the PA crew keeps trying to figure it out what is the problem whenever it occurs until a solution is found. However, this learning process can be painful if you have to try to look for a fix with a room full of people waiting for you. Ouch!

Learning about sound systems through training workshops provides a shortcut to pick up troubleshooting skills. And, hopefully, that makes it less painful for everyone – including the sound crew.

Find out how your team can benefit

By now, we hope you are convinced of the benefits of training your PA crew to be equipped to run sound.

To find out more about sound system training courses and workshops conducted by Music Warehouse Training, contact us at training@musicwarehousetraining.com

Does the Sound Guy Even Matter?

Music Warehouse Training Blog

What does it take to stand behind the mixer?

A lot.

In a venue, the person standing behind the mixer is in charge of what tens or hundreds of people at an event hear.

What is the Role of the Sound Guy?

Beside turning on the equipment and “making sure there is sound”, the person plays a crucial role in determining whether there is distracting feedback through the PA system, whether the speaker at the podium or the band playing can be heard, and if the event proceeds well in general.

The Sound Guy is the last person that sound at an event passes through before reaching the audience. He can make or break an event.

Part of a Skilled Team

The Sound Guy is part of team. Musicians train and practise for years to be able to take to the stage. Speakers at the podium draw on years of experience to engage the audience.

Similarly, the Sound Guy needs to train to use his equipment and perfect his craft.

A team is only as good as its weakest link. Musicians who give their best performance and speakers reaching out to the audience rely on the Sound Guy behind the mixer to make sure they sound right.

So, does the Sound Guy even matter?

Clearly, yes.